Nightline co-anchor Cynthia McFadden on Wednesday spent the entire show investigating the possible closing of the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi. For a series that's devolved into a celebrity-obsessed tabloid, it was a surprising return to the Nightline of old. However, McFadden still tilted towards the pro-abortion side.
After being bluntly told by a pro-life protester that unborn babies are dismembered during abortions, McFadden lectured on the remark itself: [MP3 audio here.] The anchor also referred to those who demonstrate outside clinics as "hard-core," not a term she used for the other side. However, McFadden andNightline should be commended for doing an entire program on this topic and for giving time to both sides of this issue.
McFadden began even-handedly: "Tonight we look at one of the most divisive issues in America, abortion....But sometimes as minds close and lines harden, we lose sight of the people on each side of the divide."
At the time the segment was filmed, April, the last abortion clinic in Mississippi was in danger of being closed. That still may happen, but has since been delayed by the courts. McFadden talked to the protesters, giving them ample time to explain their cause.
One man implored, "Let's help Mississippi lead the nation, in becoming the first state to protect every baby, to protect every mom."
While the journalist occasionally lectured the pro-life protesters, she mostly left statements by the pro-choice side unchallenged. After abortionist Willie Parker said that he wanted as "many abortions as necessary," McFadden marveled, "That's gonna rile a lot of feathers."
On one occasion, the reporter did press the abortion clinic manager, repeating the contention "that women will always regret [getting an abortion]."
In recent years, Nightline has shifted away from serious stories, such as this one. For instance, the program recently profiled rapper Lil' Poopie.
A partial transcript of the July 31 segment is below:
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: Good evening, I'm Cynthia McFadden, and thanks for joining us. Tonight we look at one of the most divisive issues in America, abortion. New laws limiting abortion have been enacted in North Carolina, Missouri and of course, Texas, but sometimes as minds close and lines harden, we lose sight of the people on each side of the divide. Tonight, we travel to the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, which as we arrive has only 72 hours left before it appears the state will shut it down forever.
MALE PROTESTER: Don't suck the arms and legs off at the abortion machine today.
FEMALE PROTESTER: Your baby wants to live.
MALE PROTESTER: Stop the shedding of innocent blood.
MCFADDEN: Every day, people show up outside the last abortion clinic in Mississippi.
MALE PROTESTER: There are babies being killed inside of this pink building.
MCFADDEN: Certain that what takes place inside is morally wrong.
MALE PROTESTER: There's never a good reason for a baby to die.
MCFADDEN: The protesters believe God stands with them, and they are determined to be heard.
MALE PROTESTER: We have to plead with the killers to stop.
MCFADDEN: But just on the other side of the fence, the clinic's staff is equally determined to drown them out.
ABORTION CLINIC EMPLOYEE: I can make more noise than they can.
MCFADDEN: It's a defiant last stand, here at the only clinic where a woman can get a legal abortion in the 48,000 square miles of Mississippi. Just about everybody believes a state judge will shut down the clinic in the next 72 hours. But you won't find any apologies here from the people who run the clinic. This bubble gum pink building stands loud and proud, at least for now.
BETTY THOMPSON (Clinic manager on the phone): Jackson Women's Health, may I help you, please.
MCFADDEN: Inside the clinic, the mood today is dark.
THOMPSON: You can imagine our anxiety level here at the clinic.
MCFADDEN: Betty Thompson is the clinic manager.
THOMPSON: We know that you will be safe coming to us through this week, because the hearing is not until Thursday.
MCFADDEN: The clinic is in violation of a state law that requires their doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Just the latest in the ever-growing list of regulations designed by the state to force the clinic to close.
CAL ZASTROW (anti-abortion activist): Let's help Mississippi lead the nation, in becoming the first state to protect every baby, to protect every mom, that's what we're going for.
MCFADDEN: Derzis invites me to ride with her to the clinic, like the protesters, she believes God is on her side.
DIANE DERZIS (Clinic owner): I know as fervently as they do that what I'm doing is moral and right. But if I'm wrong, that's between the Lord and I.
MCFADDEN: When we arrive about 30 people are marching in silent protest.
MCFADDEN: So your goal is to not see someone more than once?
DOCTOR WILLIE PARKER: My goal is to see a woman as often as I need to, to make sure that every pregnancy is a planned pregnancy, and every child is a wanted child, so I say how many as abortions, as many as necessary.
MCFADDEN: That's gonna rile a lot of feathers.
PARKER: I know, but when a woman chooses and decides that she needs an abortion, there needs to be a safe place for her to have one.
MCFADDEN: But that is looking less and less likely, with that hearing fast approaching, the protestors believe they are on the verge of triumph.
ZASTROW: Some day our grandchildren will ask us, grandpa, grandma, tell me what was it like? I can't believe they used to dehumanize and murder babies in America. [Talking to the clinic owner.] Hi, Diane, I want you to quit killing babies. I want you to turn to the love of Jesus.
DERZIS: I have the love of Jesus, he approves of what I do.
ZASTROW: No, you don't, you have the murder of preborn children.
MCFADDEN: Meanwhile, back inside, Dr. Parker spent most of his day behind these closed doors, doing what he, too, believes is God's work. As night falls on the clinic, Dr. Parker is bracing for bad news.
PARKER: They always say that it's always darkest right before the dawn. Well, I hope we're on the dawn of this clinic prevailing.
[Talking to a pro-life protester about a woman who had an abortion and walked out of the clinic.]
MCFADDEN: She doesn't dispute the fact that Christian's love, but that it didn't feel very loving. Do you understand why someone could see it that way?
ZASTROW: I understand why people could feel when they're cutting the head off their baby--
MCFADDEN: Well, see, that doesn't sound loving.
ZASTROW: You're right.
MCFADDEN: I mean, and the words you're using aren't loving.
ZASTROW: Little baby boys and girls are taken into that building, and when they use the suction machine they're torn apart.
MCFADDEN: Over the past several decades, attitudes on both sides of this fence have solidified, as have the stereotypes about who believes what. We found it was more complicated than that on both sides. While Cal Zastrow and Chet Gallagher's hard core approach is what we're used to seeing, Barbara Beavers has a different tone and plays a different role in the anti-abortion rights movement.
BARBARA BEAVERS: This is our nurse's station.
MCFADDEN: Beavers runs a crisis pregnancy center, providing support for those who opt to have their babies.
BEAVERS: We have baby food and clothes.
MCFADDEN: She says she worries about the young women.
-- Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.